OSWEGO, NY – Just as they have done for nearly a century, Port City veterans, their friends, families and others hunkered down against the cold Lake Ontario winds and paid tribute to those who have gone before them – especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
A large crowd in Veterans’ Memorial Park stood by reverently as the appointed hour neared. The temperature was around 40 degrees Monday. A brisk wind off the lake made it feel even colder and rain began to drizzle near the end of the ceremony.
Veterans’ Day is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour; that’s when the (World War I) truce was declared, according to LTjg George Hoffman, USNSCC, of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corp Truxtun DDG-103 Division in Oswego, and the commander of VFW Post 2320.
A chaplain offered the Veterans’ Day prayer and the flags at the center of the park were lowered; the Oswego City flag was first. It was solemnly folded.
The Prisoners Of War flag was next.
Then, the American flag was retired as well.
Representatives of the Oswego Navy Sea Cadets (Seaman apprentice Max Yonkers and petty officer Matthew Glenn) lowered and folded the American flag. The passed it on to Hoffman, a former Veteran of the Year, who then presented the flags to Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.
“On behalf of the United States of America, I present these flags to you for safe keeping,” he said.
The mayor accepted the colors on behalf of the city. They will be stored over the winter and then returned to their place of prominence next spring on Memorial Day.
Oswego’s park is the site of the first free-standing MIA – POW monument in the nation. A new monument, honoring those who served as part of Operation Enduring Freedom / Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq and Afghanistan), now sits among the memorials to veterans of the nation’s other wars. The Veterans’ Council of Oswego worked with Oswego County Monuments to establish the new monument.
“Hopefully, it will be the last monument we have to place in this park,” Hoffman said.
On the left side “2001” is inscribed. The right side is blank. A passerby paused and noted, “Hopefully we will have an end date on there soon.
Hoffman read a letter from the US Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.
“Today, less the one percent of our population bears the responsibility of our national defense,” he read. “Our gratitude shouldn’t be expressed only one day a year … but every day of the year. On this Veterans’ Day, 2013, (we) honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served.”
The best pay a veteran can receive, Hoffman pointed out, “is a thank you.”
“It is a real honor to be here today,” the mayor told Oswego County Today. “Here in Oswego and across this great country, Americans honor our brave fighting men and women for over 230 years. We recognize that all our veterans have given something of themselves. Some have given all. As we reflect on the blessings that we enjoy in America, let us never forget that we cannot rightfully celebrate the joy of freedom without remembering the great price that was paid by our heroes!”
“It’s the least we can do, stand out here in a little bit of cold to celebrate their lives and sacrifices,” he said in a brief statement to the crowd. “May we always be humbly grateful to those great brave American patriots who suffered and sacrificed for the freedoms of all Americans. Let it be said that our fighting men and women have been there for America and the free world.”
He offered “a simple but heartfelt message” to all veterans – “Thank you very much.”
“It’s a great honor and a privilege for me to be here today,” added Assemblyman Will Barclay. “What a terrific turnout we have here today, even with the cold. It makes me feel good to know that Oswego County, the city of Oswego we do care about our veterans and we do want to come out and say thank you for all that you’ve done, all the great sacrifices you’ve done for out country. You’ve really made us the country that we are.”
This year marked the 95th anniversary of the first observance.
Veterans Day commemorates the Armistice back in 1918, after World War I, Hoffman said.
“Veterans’ Day is treated as a holiday, and yet, shouldn’t be a holiday, he said. “It should be a day of remembrance. We have to make sure our children never forget that message. It shows respect for (veterans’) service.”
In 1954, the holiday was changed to Veterans’ Day following World War II and the Korean War.
In 1968 it was decided to move the holiday to the last Monday of October, he said. The first non-traditional Veterans’ Day was celebrated Oct. 25, 1971 – “observed with much confusion.”
“Many states didn’t agree with this and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date,” Hoffman noted. “Finally on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned the annual observance to its original date beginning in 1978.”
Anyone interested in joining the Sea Cadets or obtaining information can contact Hoffman at 315-591-0000, or e-mail [email protected]